Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Had Me At Aloe

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 299 types of aloe plants.  However, the only type of flowering succulent that interested me was the kind packed in that Trader Joe's can high on the store shelf: aloe vera cozy in its own lightly sweetened juice.

Usually aloe vera is a plant on a kitchen window ledge, ready to be used for careless fingers suffering from a recent collision with a hot skillet. Here, at Trader Joe's, the famous medicinal plant was ready for purchase. Dimly aware of all the "aloe cures what ails you" theories out there and having the usual single-mindedness, this hapless bartender considered the product in only one way - could it be put to good use in a cocktail?!

The first combination tried wasn't an easy one because there was very little whiskey in the jar - the only thing on hand, in the brown spirits family, was a corn whiskey.

I started with a variation on the classic whiskey sour with the above Tuthilltown Corn Whiskey, opting for appearance perhaps rather than performance. Corn whiskey, an unaged spirit, a neonatal Bourbon so to speak, results from a corn mash that doesn't spend any time in the oak cask required for a bourbon. 

Corn whiskey is a strong taste against which the delicate aloe syrup struggled; add more if desired. The taste, well...but it looks great.

With apologies to Todd Rundgren, I give you the Aloe, It's Me:

2 oz. of corn whiskey
1 tbs. of fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. aloe vera syrup (lightly sweetened)
1 tbs. of superfine sugar

Combine in a cocktail shaker with a cup of ice. Shake until a frost forms on the outside. Strain into a sour glass (looks like a small champagne flute) for straight up sour or strain into a double old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a maraschino and lemon wheel of course!

Because of the color and consistency of the aloe vera, both the plant and its juice, it worked very well with vodka, a neutral spirit. I experimented along the lines of the Dirty Martini motif.
With apologies to Jim Morrison, I give you the Aloe, I Love You:
2 1/2 oz. of vodka
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
2 oz. of aloe vera lightly sweetened syrup
Shake (not stirred) with ice in cocktail shaker until frost forms on the outside. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
And here is where the aloe lends itself to a distinctive cocktail in a surprising way.
The consistency of the diced aloe is a bit odd - on the rubbery yet tender side, gelatinous really, brings to mind a jellyfish, but it looks so attractive. On the hors d'oeuvres pick above, the diced aloe looked like little ice cubes in the martini.
One more variation on the Aloe Martini, one actually approaching Cosmo territory, I bring you my favorite of the evening. 
With apologies to Carol Channing, the Aloe Dolly:
2 1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. aloe vera lightly sweetened syrup
dash of Orange Bitters
The Aloe Dolly had a sophisticated combination that both tasted and served conversation well: "What's in your drink?!" So, with no apologies to Renee Zwelleger or Tom Cruise, and quoting Jerry Maguire again, we weren't trying to make history here, just a little cocktail fun with a medicinal plant. 
First published on

Monday, October 11, 2010

Martha says "Herb" with an "H" and other cocktail news....

Martha Stewart was stuck in the inevitable traffic of Manhattan's United Nations week, but no diplomat was going to keep her from her date with a blender in the Bronx at one of New York City's most glorious kitchens – the New York Botanical Gardens.

On a recent early autumn evening, the Gardens presented an herb class with Martha Stewart as part of its Edible Garden exhibition. The series features a line-up of celebrity chefs.

Martha hosted her own garden this summer at the Gardens with over 50 types of herbs. The event was right on target with what is trendy in mixology right now, as we all knew a Martha Stewart event would be. The days of arcane and precious cocktails have already passed their peak, and now it is the time for simplicity in mixed drinks: going out and picking something special from the late garden and adding it to a spirit.

With a perfect New York blue fall sky in the background, a tent was set up in front of the iconic NYBG Conservatory. Hundreds of Manhattanite Martha fans were dressed in what was supposed to be "This old thing? I just came from the office," but was more suspiciously along the line of "I'm going to see Martha Stewart" Tory Burch.

The two classic cocktails that Martha focused on: a variation on a frozen daiquiri, and the classic mint julep, a drink she confessed she wasn't particularly fond of, but she did adore the silver tumblers.
Cocktails from the Garden with Martha

I call this one "The Martharita." It is like a daquiri or a margarita with a sweet and sour balance.

Moisten the cocktail glass (which looks like a small martini glass) with Lillet Blanc and then place on the rim the salt/sugar combination. Do this early in the day so that the rim dries before cocktail hour.

5 basil leaves (lemon basil is especially good if you have it)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz vodka (or more if you're stuck in UN traffic)
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 cup ice
Combine all in a blender. Top off with additional vodka if needed. Martha did.

The crowd was enthusiastic. So much so, Martha remarked, that it "sounds like someone has already had a lot to drink back there. Sounds like you've already had your cocktails!" And we had – at the pre-show champagne cocktail reception in her herb garden. Remember, a chamagne cocktail is an easy but impressive drink consisting of a sugar cube at the bottom of a flute, a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters, and champagne. It makes for a willing audience.

Martha's Mint Julep

I have covered making mint juleps before in this column near Derby time, but this is a recipe from Martha's precise lips. It differs from the recipe from her Living Magazine in that it doesn't require squeezing 26 lemons, but if you don't mind forgoing that pleasure, here goes:

8 mint leaves
1 tsp superfine sugar - raw
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Add 1 cup crushed ice to the tumbler.
Pour 2 oz. bourbon over ice.
Sitr until the outside of the cup is frosted.
Garnish with mint sprig.

I was delighted when Martha gave our local whiskey distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits, a substantial plug. Along with the Maker's Mark, she offered Tuthilltown's beautiful Baby Bourbon as an option in the julep. My own Baby Bourbon is empty so it's time soon for a return trip to New Paltz.

photo by Ben Stechschulte

Lessons to be learned in the Garden: invest in a good blender, and even more important, never use anything other than fresh juice in a cocktail. That can't be stressed enough, but I'll let Martha explain: "Whatever the recipe calls for, if it's a margarita, it has to be fresh lime juice. It doesn't pay to buy any of those mixes. They are expensive. They are full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners. I won't order that kind of drink in a bar unless they are squeezing the limes right there in front of me." Rightly said, but still, can you imagine being that bartender when Martha comes up to the stick and orders a margarita? There might be an unsteady hand over the juicer even if there is no artificial mix in the house.

Originally published on